I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE: Alright Material, Great Value — Review
Classic Stage Company’s revival of I Can Get It for You Wholesale, serviceably directed by Trip Cullman, is a pleasurable look back at the 1962 musical about Jewish Garment District workers during the Great Depression, if not one that makes a case for its elevation above being a footnote in Barbra Streisand’s biography. The then-19-year-old catapulted herself into history in the small but memorable role of Miss Marmelstein which, in true Babs form, was retooled and expanded to accommodate her talent.
Jerome Weidman’s book, based on his own 1937 novel, is here similarly rejiggered by his son John, who has moved, added, and excised some of Harold Rome’s playful score. This includes bumping its best-known song, “Miss Marmelstein,” a gem of a complaint aria, to the first act. On the one hand, the sooner we get to embrace Julia Lester’s vigorous take on the material, the better. But the changes seldom cohere, not that many are rushing to preserve the integrity of the overall work.
Its lead, the amoral upstart Harry Bogen (Santino Fontana), is given an additional dimension as audience-courting narrator but, despite Fontana’s crisp voice and best efforts, this is a mistake. As he steadfastly breaks a workers’ strike, lies to his mother (Judy Kuhn), turns his girlfriend (Rebecca Naomi Jones) into a meal ticket, skimps on his mistress (Joy Woods), betrays his business partners (Adam Chanler-Berat and Greg Hildreth) and, almost, big boss (Adam Grupper), his misdeeds become tedious. There’s no sense in making him appeal to us so uncritically, and his actions become tiresome rather than compellingly contradictory.
There’s some pleasure to be had in seeing him get his ass handed to him whenever those around him can manage, but his path of destruction does not make for a particularly fun trajectory, nor are his sins juicy enough to comprise a revelrous romp.
What’s juicy are the production’s vocal turns, particularly during its duets, both melodic (Chanler-Berat and wife Sarah Steele; Hildreth and Woods) or contrapuntal (Jones and Woods). Jones, having honed her ability to be coyly courted in the round through Oklahoma!, lands a terrific “Who Knows,” about the joys of exploring New York’s cultural scene on the road to romance.
And Lester, who nails “Marmelstein,” conserves her energy to lead a stunning “What Are They Doing to Us Now?” in the second act, a bleak and powerful ode to the unforgiving march of history. With Wholesale and last season’s Into the Woods under her belt, she’s solidified herself as a dependable comedienne with a volcanic voice.
The songs, for the most part, are charming and insightful into its particularly New York milieu, if not great at advancing plot or developing much character insight. They do, however, provide a sturdy base for Jacinth Greywoode’s music direction and orchestrations, which features taxi horns, reeds, and klezmer-like sounds. These bounce joyfully through Mark Wendland’s set, heavy on work tables and with an inventively crafted Manhattan skyline made of workroom materials upstage.
Looking great in Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes, the talented cast elevates the material, encouraging in us a commitment to their troubles which the book does not itself hold. And the rarely produced show is still a treat, both as preparation for Streisand’s upcoming memoir and for history-minded theatre fans eager for a glimpse into a bygone era of culturally specific, community-built musical entertainment. As a wholesale deal, it’s quite a bargain.
I Can Get It for You Wholesale is in performance through December 17, 2023 at Classic Stage Company on East 13th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.